Big Pharma Finds a Home on Campus

As drug companies scale back spending on R&D, academic research takes on financial risk

5742-biotech-1

Joon Powell for The Chronicle

P. Jeffrey Conn co-directs Vanderbilt U.’s Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, which has attracted top researchers from pharmaceutical companies.

Enlarge Image
close 5742-biotech-1

Joon Powell for The Chronicle

P. Jeffrey Conn co-directs Vanderbilt U.’s Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, which has attracted top researchers from pharmaceutical companies.

P. Jeffrey Conn left a full professorship for a job in Big Pharma 11 years ago because he saw no path in academe to turn his novel idea for treating Parkinson's disease into an actual drug. Now he and a corps of scientists are closing in on a molecule that could bring relief to the millions suffering with the condition's debilitating tremors and paralysis.

But the screening, testing, formulating, and reformulating that brought Mr. Conn's team to this point didn't happen in a lab at a